If there were such a thing as the First Family of Corrections in the state of Virginia, we surely found it when producing "Through the Door," EthicsDaily.com's new documentary on faith and prisons.
The Myers family – from left, dad J.L., son Randy, daughter Jo and mom Reba – stand as a reminder that ordinary people lead extraordinary lives, Vaughn writes. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
The Myers family – dad J.L., mom Reba, son Randy and daughter Jo – stand as a reminder that ordinary people lead extraordinary lives.
We first approached Randy, president of the Chaplain Service Prison Ministry of Virginia Inc., as we began pre-production on the documentary.
We wanted to interview Randy about the role of chaplains in prisons, the importance of religious liberty, ways to reduce recidivism and so on.
It turns out that Randy's connection to prison life was more than professional; it was personal.
He literally grew up on the grounds of the State Industrial Farm for Women – the women's prison – in Goochland, Va.
His father, J.L., was a security guard, and his mother, Reba, worked first as a farm matron and later in inmate accounting.
The prison was a working farm: crops, livestock, pastures, woods, rolling hills, a pond. Remember: It was a corrections environment. But it was also home to Randy and his younger sister, Jo.
When we visited with the entire Myers family exactly one year ago, we walked the grounds of the farm – now called the Virginia Correctional Center for Women (VCCW).
We got footage of them, all together again, on the acreage where this family formed.
In a sense, it's the unlikeliest of places, but in another sense, home is where you hang your hat. Or where the heart is.
We shot inside the chapel there, built in memory of Elizabeth M. Kates, the first superintendent of the facility.
We ate lunch in the cafeteria, with meals prepared by inmates. We even visited the old medical building, which housed a nursery for babies born to inmates at the farm.
Randy and Jo shared their perceptions, then and now, of prisons and inmates.
"I think a lot of people who've never been in a prison are actually afraid to go into one," Jo told us in the chapel. "And it was never anything I was afraid of. It was just part of everyday life. 'We're going over to visit mom.' And it never occurred to me that, 'This is a prison.' Like it's a bad place to go or a scary place to go. It was just where you went."
Randy said, "Throughout my career in corrections, and now when I visit the prisons to visit the chaplains … it's easy to talk to incarcerated people because we always did."
To be sure, maximum-security facilities differ in approach and mood from the VCCW, but those early experiences helped form Randy's and Jo's impression of the imprisoned.
Watch "Through the Door" and spend a little time with the Myers family. You'll come to understand how the family's "prison business" was really the family's "prison ministry."
You'll get "the rest of the story" – which began one day in 1966 – and fast be reminded of how ordinary people lead extraordinary lives.
Cliff Vaughn is media producer for EthicsDaily.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cliff_vaughn.
Editor's note: To order "Through the Door" click here.